Houston hired West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen as its coach Wednesday, ending his eight-year run with the Mountaineers.
Holgorsen was 61-41 and 33-30 in the Big 12 as he helped guide West Virginia through the transition from the Big East. Houston competes in the American Athletic Conference, which was formed from the remnants of Big East football after it was torn apart by realignment earlier this decade.
Holgorsen spent two seasons as Houston’s offensive coordinator in 2008-09, when it was in Conference USA, before serving a season in the same position under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State in 2010.
“We are thrilled to welcome Dana back to Houston as the next leader of our football program. His offensive acumen with an emphasis on student-athlete development, on and off the field, is a perfect fit for our program, university and city,” athletic director Chris Pezman said.
Houston fired coach Major Applewhite on Sunday after two underwhelming seasons. Applewhite, who took a school-friendly deal in 2016 to replace Tom Herman, went 15-11.
Holgorsen is making a unique move, leaving a Power Five school for one outside the high revenue conferences. No coach has willingly made that move since the College Football Playoff was established in 2014.
But Holgorsen was in a tricky spot at West Virginia. He had probably has most talented team in Morgantown, West Virginia, this season. Led by quarterback Will Grier, the Mountaineers were in contention for a Big 12 title and playoff spot entering November.
They fell short of a spot in the Big 12 title game, losing to Oklahoma at home in the regular-season finale to finish 8-3. With Grier and star offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste sitting out, the Mountaineers lost the Camping World Bowl to Syracuse last week. West Virginia is facing a significant rebuild next season with Grier, Cajuste, star receiver David Sills V and linebacker David Long all headed to the NFL.
Houston has been trying to work its way into a Power Five conference, preferably the Big 12, and is hoping Holgorsen can help make them a viable option in a process in which the school has little control.
Holgorsen is two years into a contract that runs through the 2021 season and pays him $3.5 million per year. Houston will owe West Virginia a $1 million buyout.
“I want to thank coach Holgorsen for his eight years at West Virginia,” West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said. “Our national search for his replacement has already begun, and I know it will be a successful one.”
Holgorsen initially was hired as West Virginia’s offensive coordinator and head coach-in waiting in December 2010. Fans were never fully enamored with Holgorsen after he replaced the popular Bill Stewart at the start of the 2011 season. A month after an intoxicated Holgorsen was escorted out of a West Virginia casino, he was named Stewart’s replacement after a former sports writer said Stewart approached him shortly after Holgorsen’s hiring to “dig up dirt” on his eventual successor.
Inheriting players recruited by Stewart, West Virginia beat Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl after the 2011 season to finish 10-3. Holgorsen was given a five-year contract extension at the end of the 2016 regular season, when WVU also went 10-3.